At first sight, you could be forgiven for thinking that Halfway to Venus, a “one-armed journey”, was going to be a “poor me” book. But what makes it so different is that, despite having had her arm amputated due to cancer when she was 10, Sarah Anderson is at pains to tell us that she’s far from sorry for herself. Angry – yes. Understandable fury drives the book along to an ending that resolves in self-acceptance and a certain courage.
Anderson has made a great success of her life. She started up the Travel Bookshop in west London (yes, the one that featured in the famous movie Notting Hill; she has had to suffer gawpers ever since). She has self-published two books; she has scuba-dived, trekked, swum, made love, driven, written extensively and even, in a hilarious final chapter, signed on to a One Arm Dove Hunt in the US, especially designed for people who have lost an arm.
Her personal story is desperately poignant. Her mother, unable to tell her verbally what would happen when she went into hospital to have the operation, instead made a chopping motion with her hand across her arm. Afterwards, almost nothing was said: no counselling; no therapy. Her parents even bought her a bicycle and expected her to get on with it. Which she did. Far from feeling resentful, Anderson is grateful now that her difference wasn’t singled out, and that no fuss was made of the situation.